At St. Joan of Arc, Whitney Stolnicki, left, Miranda Robertson, Lauren Boehler, Corinne Tipping (hidden), Camden Buescher, and John Toth study The Blade's daily stock listings.
Clint Kulwicki and his teammates stared into their computer screen at Whiteford High School in Whiteford Township last week, looking for clues to the coming three months hiding amid the wavy blue peaks and valleys of online stock charts.
"It's definitely very interesting," Mr. Kulwicki, 18, said as he pored over the recent performance of appliance maker Whirlpool Inc.
Similarly, in an eighth grade class at St. Joan of Arc Elementary in Toledo, teacher Dasa Dzierwa had students studying stock tables, making persuasive arguments to their classmates, and casting votes to choose the four stocks that would make up their fictional portfolios.
In classrooms across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan last week, hundreds of students like Mr. Kulwicki were boning up on financial returns, studying market trends, and putting down their best bets on stocks as part of The Blade's annual School Stock Contest.
The 12-week contest begins at the close of the stock market Friday night and ends at the market's close April 29. The deadline for selecting the four stocks, each worth at least $5, in each team's hypothetical portfolio was last week. In all, the contest has more than 100 teams from about 30 schools. A hypothetical $40,000 was divided evenly among the choices.
Clint Kulwicki and Kaitlin Smith of Whiteford weigh pros and cons by computer.
On March 18, midway through the contest, teams may change any or all of their stocks.
The team whose portfolio grows the most by the end of the contest wins $250 for the school and $250 for the team. Second place receives $250 for the school, and third place gets $100 for the school. The prizes may be cash or gift certificates.
Contest co-sponsors are The Blade's Newspaper in Education program, Fifth Third Bank, and the University of Toledo, which is tabulating the results.
In classroom after classroom, teachers use the annual contest to introduce the stock market to their students and to talk to them about financial planning and using their money to make more money. They study different investing strategies and look at company calendars to see when earnings might be released or other news might lead to a big bump in their stocks' performance.
"This is a great way for you to learn about investing, and about planning for your retirement," teacher Jim Miller told Mr. Kulwicki and the other members of his technology class at Whiteford. "But the whole idea of this is how to come out on top."
Teacher Jim Miller confers with Whiteford students Zack Niederkohr and Sarah Bowes on their stock picks.
Many participants will gravitate to the shares of companies that they are familiar with — Apple Inc., Pepsico Inc., McDonalds Corp. — while other students steer toward companies that have a local or family connection, such as Libbey Inc., Owens Corning, or General Motors Co.
Mr. Kulwicki and his three teammates in CAKE — an acronym of their first initials — had spent more than a week weeding through a dozen prospective stocks, studying trend lines, filings, and other tidbits of financial information looking for signs of a quick-moving stock.
"We started with 10 or 12 stocks, and we finally got down to our four," Mr. Kulwicki said. They settled on First Solar Inc., Delta Airlines Inc., Whirlpool, and Toledo-based Libbey. "We picked Libbey because they had a good performance last year," teammate Kaitlin Smith said.
A few aisles over in the class, 17-year-old senior Derek Marckel was trying something different for his team's portfolio, researching Rare Element Resources Ltd., a company that focuses on rare-earth raw materials in North America.
"I saw it on television. I was watching with my dad and they started talking about it," explained Mr. Marckel. "I brought it up with [the other members of my team], and we talked about it a little bit, and they thought it was pretty good too."
Kara Koepfer pores over The Blade stock tables at St. Joan of Arc.
Steve Sherline, director, investment advisers division (northwest Ohio) at Fifth Third Bank, one of the contest's co-sponsors, said the annual stock contest gives many students their first exposure to the financial world that is likely to dominate their adult lives. It teaches them the concepts of risk and reward and the power of compounding, he said, and it does so in a very short time.
"It's a total sprint, but what it does is expose their mind to a lot of things that are very important as they get older," Mr. Sherline said. "You can see from their stock picks that their tastes drive a lot of their choices."
Mr. Sherline said he and fellow investment advisers at Fifth Third are forecasting another double-digit gain in the market during 2011, citing continued low interest rates and rising corporate earnings. During last year's contest, every one of the 98 teams finished in positive territory, with the top team posting a 44 percent gain during the 12-week period and 90 of the 98 beating the broader market gains during the period.
Mr. Sherline cited Apple Inc. as a popular stock among this year's contest entries, as the tech giant takes its popular IPhone 4 to Verizon Wireless' network this spring, a move analysts believe is likely to boost results at both companies.
Dasa Dzierwa leads her eighth graders at St. Joan of Arc as they whittle their list.
In Ms. Dzierwa's eighth-grade classes at St. Joan of Arc, the students were engaged. "We chose Netflix [Inc.] because it's growing, and everyone's using it," 14-year-old John Toth said as he made a case for the company famous for mailing movies to its clients. "It's getting pretty popular right now." In both classes, the 13 and 14-year-olds in their uniform white shirts discussed the merits and disadvantages of each company's shares, then coolly cast their votes to jettison some of the biggest names in business.
"We can say good-bye to Google, IBM, First Solar, and Huntington," Mrs. Dzierwa said as she erased the companies from an electronic whiteboard. They settled on Netflix, Apple, Verizon, and BP PLC.
Other teams chose less expensive stocks, where small price increases can have a larger percentage impact on their team's performance. The strategy has paid off in recent years for the eighth grade algebra students in Bo Evarts' class at Rossford Junior High School. "The last four or five years, I've had a team that was in first place at some point. They've never won, but they've come close," Mr. Evarts said. "I have 24 kids in mass this year, and they really get into it."
Like many teachers, Mr. Evarts uses the annual stock contest to teach mathematical principles and introduce financial concepts. His students will know when one of their companies has an earnings call, and researches whether it's due for a big move because of its performance.
Mr. Evarts also said that since he began using the stock contest six years ago, previous eighth graders have told him that the three-month race was "the one thing that they remembered most from this class. It's something they can relate to the real world."
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: